Former collegiate star takes over coaching role for Summit volleyball
September 4, 2018
BRECKENRIDGE — About a week before preseason practice was set to begin for the Summit High School volleyball program, senior Mia Popoff received a text message from a teammate. It informed her and the rest of the returning members of the Tigers varsity volleyball team that a new head coach had finally been officially named and that their new leader would be available later that afternoon to meet the team.
That woman is Kelly Schneweis. Though it took up until, essentially, the very last minute of summer for the Tigers to officially name Schneweis as head coach prior to this fall season, the fit between coach and program seems to be ideal.
Schneweis is both a Summit County local of several years and a lifelong volleyball player and coach at the highest levels. The native Texan and her husband moved to Summit County five years ago, left a couple of years later, and then returned two years ago because "the mountains were still calling," as Schneweis put it.
By day, Schneweis works for Summit Resort Group in Dillon. Come each afternoon in recent weeks, she races over to the Summit High School gym for 3:30 p.m. practices with the Tigers volleyball program's varsity, junior varsity and "C" team — sophomore and freshmen-level.
This kind of a grind is not new for Schneweis, who most recently coached the junior varsity team at Arapahoe High School in Centennial several years ago. She's also coached club teams of high school-aged girls elsewhere in Colorado, Kansas and California.
Prior to her coaching days, Schneweis was a 5A state championship volleyball player in the Texas state ranks, starring as a libero. It's a defensive, back-line position in six-versus-six indoor volleyball typically reserved for a smaller, quicker player.
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Schneweis continued success at the position at the Division I level in college, starring at Wichita State University in Kansas. A four-year starter for the Shockers, Schneweis went on to earn All-American honors, break a few records and receive selection into the school's athletics hall of fame thanks to her success in college.
A stint in pro volleyball followed, Schneweis briefly played for the Arizona Sizzle of the Premier Volleyball League in 2012. Fast forward six years, and Schneweis has seven returning seniors as part of this Summit Tigers 2018 varsity team. It's a group that went 4-18 last season under one-year head coach Annie Hettinger.
Without Hettinger in the fold, Schneweis said she began to receive questions about her interest in the coaching job while playing in the local recreational volleyball community pick-up games at the Silverthorne Recreation Center a few months back.
"The more I heard that they were just desperate for a coach my heart kind of felt for them," Schneweis said. "And I wanted them to have a great (high school) experience like I had."
Though she'd never previously attended a Tigers volleyball game or practice, Schneweis signed herself up for the duty of leading the program. With those seven seniors leading the way, over the first few weeks of practice Schneweis has worked to instill a focus on defensive and passing fundamentals and teamwork as the core of the Tigers' identity.
"Defense has been my specialty all of my volleyball existence," Schneweis said. "I've coached in California, Colorado, Kansas; I've seen a lot of different volleyball techniques, and one thing that I've found that works are the defensive techniques I learned in college. There's a lot more floor movement."
The coach said in early practices she's drilled the team on the importance of receiving serves and setting up an offensive attack from there.
"Because if you can't pass, then you can't play," Schneweis said.
This year's Tigers team will certainly have a paramount focus of defense and passing, with everything else falling into place thereafter. That said, Schneweis realizes proper passing is usually the hardest technique to learn in the sport, which means it'll likely take many practice repetitions for her players.
As for the makeup of this year's squad, Schneweis described the players as "raw" overall, fundamentally, though she said the athletic ability is certainly there. The program this year has a dozen players each on its varsity, junior varsity and C teams. For varsity, Schneweis said she hopes the team can reach a .500 winning percentage in her first season as coach.
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